For years, Tiffany Posteraro wore many layers of clothing and thick make-up to conceal her skin. Tiffany suffers from vitiligo, a condition characterized by white patches developing all over the body, owing to a lack of melanin – the pigment that gives human skin, hair, and eyes their colour – in those areas.
People would gawk at her everywhere she went if her skin was on show.
At school, she was called names for example ‘cow’, ‘Dalmatian’, ‘ghost face’ and ‘burns victim’, and boys her age even said they couldn’t take her on a date because of her skin.
Her confidence nosedived and she started covering herself up, and keeping away from situations such as pool parties, where she would have to wear a bikini.
Tiffany Posteraro underwent years of harsh comments as a skin condition triggered white patches to pop up all over her body. After a lifetime of avoiding wearing a bikini, now she bares her pale patches with pride (right)
Miss Posteraro’s condition is called vitiligo, which is caused by a lack of melanin in the skin. She made up her mind to get ‘It’s called vitiligo’ tattooed on her forearm, so that people could ask her about her condition instead of staring
However, after meeting another vitiligo sufferer who introduced her to various support groups, she now wears her pale patches with pride.
The 24-year-old has even had the words ‘It’s called vitiligo’ tattooed across her forearm as an answer to people’s looks.
She said: ‘I wanted to share with people what it is because that way they would learn something, rather than stigmatising.
‘I decided to get the tattoo for that reason – to answer the questions in their heads and give them something to actually stare at.’
‘Now people are like, “I love your tattoo”. They ask questions about the condition and go away enlightened.
‘They know I didn’t get burnt in a fire. They know there’s a term for what I have.’
Miss Posteraro, who grew up in Florida, first noticed small white spots on her knees when she was seven.
‘I showed my parents but we just thought they must be scars or something,’ she said.
‘Over time I got a few on my wrists and then it spread around my whole kneecaps.
‘We had no idea what it was. A dermatologist gave me some ointment but it did nothing.’
Then, when she turned 11, she was out shopping with her mom when a man pulled her aside and said ‘You have vitiligo.’
She continued: ‘Now I had a name for it but I still didn’t know much about it.
‘My parents didn’t make a big deal about it. To them I was just Tiffany.
‘It was comforting in a sense but I wish I could have known more about it.
‘When people stared and made nasty comments, I had no comeback because I didn’t understand my condition.’
It was only when she turned 14 and started using computers that she was able to look up what vitiligo was, and found she wasn’t the only person in the world who had it.
By that time the white patches had spread – and it now covered Miss Posteraro’s knees, feet, elbows and wrists.
Vitiligo stimulate pale, white patches to develop on the skin owing to a lack of melanin, a chemical produced in the skin to keep it safe from sunburn, and which also gives it its colour.
For people like Miss Posteraro, these patches can pop up symmetrically on both sides of the body.
‘It was all over my arms and legs, and then it spread to my face,’ she said.
‘That was before I even knew how to apply make-up, and I had just started a new school so it was awful.
‘People would say, “did you tan under a tree?” I got called “cow”, “Dalmatian”, “ghost face”, “burns victim”.
‘A few boys in my class told me, “I can’t date you because of this”. It was horrible.’
Eventually, she started wearing make-up to even out her skin tone.
‘I tried everything possible to cover it up,’ she said. ‘I got really dark spray tans and used industrial-strength foundation, the kind used to cover deep scars.
WHAT IS VITILIGO?
Vitiligo is a long-term condition that stimulates pale, white patches to develop on the skin owing to the lack of a chemical called melanin.
Melanin, which is produced by specialised skin cells known as melanocytes, gives the skin its colour and safeguards it from the sun.
It’s not clear what causes this lack of melanin, but it has been associated with problems with the immune system and nerve endings in the skin.
Vitiligo can impact different areas of the skin, but most commonly occurs on skin exposed to the sun, like the face, neck and hands.
The condition is unique for each person.
Some people only get a few small, white patches, but others get bigger white patches that join up across large areas of their skin.
There is no method of foretelling how much skin will be affected. The white patches are often permanent.
Specific things can escalate the chance of developing vitiligo, for example a family history of the condition or having another autoimmune problem, like an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism).
Vitiligo is not triggered by an infection and it cannot be caught from contact with someone who has it.
In nearly 50 per cent of people affected it begins before the age of 20, although it can occur at any age.
Men and women both can get affected, as are people of different ethnicities.
At school, boys said they could not ask her on a date because of her condition. Anyway presently, she is due to marry her fiancé Jonathan, who she says isn’t fazed by her skin, in September
Miss Posteraro says people say they adore her tattoo. She said: ‘They ask questions about the condition and go away enlightened. They know I didn’t get burnt in a fire. They know there’s a term for what I have.’
Growing up (left), Miss Posteraro was called names like ‘cow’, ‘Dalmatian’, ‘ghost face’ and ‘burns victim’ and her confidence nosedived. But now, she has made up her mind not to hide her skin (pictured, right, with fiancé Jonathan)
‘I covered my legs and arms most of the time, even in the sweltering heat, and would avoid pool parties because it meant wearing a bikini.’
Seeing America’s Next Top Model 2014 contestant Winnie Harlow, who also has vitiligo, bravely baring her skin on television, gave Miss Posteraro a confidence boost.
But it was meeting up with a fellow sufferer in Ikea in May this year that actually inspired her.
It was the first time she had met someone else with the condition.
‘I was so excited I went straight over to her and said, ‘You have vitiligo – so do I,’ she said.
‘She told me about various support groups and Facebook communities I never knew existed. It was so empowering.
‘After that I just thought, why should I hide who I am? It’s exhausting.
‘Now I only wear a little bit of make-up and the rest of my body I don’t cover at all. I wear shorts and don’t care what anyone thinks.’
By chance, Miss Posteraro spotted another person who had vitiligo and ran over forthwith. She was introduced to inspiring support groups. ‘After that I just thought, why should I hide who I am? It’s exhausting’
Having vitiligo has turned her into a kinder person, Miss Posteraro said: ‘I believe I am a better person and a more empathetic person for having vitiligo. I don’t look at someone and focus on their flaws.’
A couple of weeks later Miss Posteraro had the words ‘It’s called vitiligo’ tattooed in big letters across her forearm.
‘I was sick of the stares,’ she said. ‘I just wanted to say, “come on, ask me what it is”.
It allows people to ask her questions about her condition, and learn something, she said.
‘It’s over my forearm and wrist and goes over white patches, so it’s perfect.
‘It’s very liberating. For me it makes it much easier to handle the stares.’
Miss Posteraro is a trained alcohol and substance abuse counsellor and a short time ago launched her own company helping people to create their online dating profiles.
After years of boys at school rejecting her because of her skin, she is going to marry a policeman Jonathan Grant, 29, in September.
‘Jonathan has never been fazed by my vitiligo,’ she said.
‘I remember telling him about it on our third date, two years ago, and he just said, ‘why are you telling me that? I don’t care.’
‘I have dated since I was 15 and a few guys told me in the past, “at least you have a pretty face”. Jonathan has helped me feel more confident about who I am, not just how I look.’
Seeing America’s Next Top Model 2014 contestant Winnie Harlow, who too suffers from vitiligo, bravely baring her skin on television, gave Miss Posteraro a huge confidence boost
She said: ‘If patches appear on one knee they will eventually appear on the other, and so on. There are times when it takes a week for it to appear on the opposite side.
‘It’s like watching someone grow up. You don’t notice at the time, but you look back at photos and see the changes.’
In Britain nearly 1 in 100 people develop vitiligo.
It is still unknown what causes the lack of melanin to occur, but it has been associated with problems with the immune system and nerve endings in the skin.
Specific factors can escalate your chances of developing vitiligo, for example a family history or having an autoimmune problem such as an overactive thyroid gland.
It cannot be caught from contact with a sufferer.
Miss Posteraro said that while her condition has brought on pain, it has made her a kinder person.
She said: ‘I believe I am a better person and a more empathetic person for having vitiligo. I don’t look at someone and focus on their flaws.
‘Flaws to one person are beautiful to another.’